Origin: Mediterranean region
Improvement status: Cultivar
Seeds per packet: ~60
Germination tested 11/2023: 81%
Life cycle: Annual
Flower lovers are familiar with love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), while foodies and traditional medicine practitioners know kalonji or black seed (Nigella sativa), both of which are available in our catalog. But we're thrilled to be getting to know this lesser known third species — Nigella orientalis — one of the eighteen described species in the Nigella genus (itself a part of the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae).
Also called yellow fennel flower or jester's hat, Nigella orientalis is mostly grown as a cut flower, and the 'Transformer' selection is equally beautiful fresh or dried, at most any stage of development. The flower has an unusual structure: what appear to be its yellow petals are actually enlarged sepals, while the actual petals are smaller and darker. The middle part of the flower is "a mane of stout stamens surrounding a green fountain of ovary", as described by our seed source (Frank Morton and Wild Garden Seeds). It's that "green fountain of ovary" that uncannily resembles a stereo-typical jester's hat. When fully mature, these become seed pods. Unlike N. sativa and N. damascena, whose pods resemble balloons, N. orientalis pods look more like columbine seed pods, holding on to that jester hat style.
While not used as food nearly as often as its more famous cousins, sources say the seeds of this species have a history of being used as an adulterant in ground black pepper! Please let us know if you have other culinary uses for this beautiful plant!